Ryan Raburn is an enigma. Just when you believe he's turned the corner to become a player whose bat simply compels he start every day, he goes into a prolonged slump. Just as you write him off as a guy who'll never contribute on a daily basis, he gets hotter than anyone on the team. The end results are a pretty good batting line, but you just wish Raburn could find a way to avoid the deepest valleys of the slump and contribute a bit more.
In the field, Raburn is a lot more predictable. He may be best known for his overzealous attempts to make a defensive play in Game 163, which ended up costing his team. Or maybe he's best known for falling through a gate in Cleveland, leading to an in-the-park home run for Jhonny Peralta. In any case, when you think Raburn you think defensive gaffes. Is that fair? We'll explore deeper.
As you can imagine when keeping all of this in mind, assigning Raburn a grade is thus a bit difficult. I'll say he's a solid C. Had he been more consistent at the plate over the course of the season that would have been a B for sure.
At the plate:
I'm going to go a little bit different from my normal Baseball-Reference chart with Raburn:
|162 Game Avg.||162||461||67||115||25||3||17||66||34||106||.274||.333||.466||.799||110|
As you can see, Raburn's second half was nothing short of phenomenal. His May was, well, nothing. Not that he had a lot of opportunity to turn it around, getting only 26 plate appearances.
Otherwise, what you see is a player who can hit for average, hits for power, and who finds his way on base with pretty good knowledge of the strike zone, too.
One question you might ask is whether Raburn gets better with more playing time. (Counter argument: Better results help net more playing time.) One thing is certain: When Raburn starts seeing the ball well, he finds his groove and tends to stay there for awhile. For that reason, it's really tempting to ask the question, "What can this guy do if given 650 plate appearances?"
In the field:
Raburn does not fare well in the fans' scouting report. He is seen as having poor instincts, poor range and -- what's worse than poor? -- awful hands (9 on a scale of 0-100). He is seen as being about average when it comes to throwing.
Interestingly, the Ultimate Zone Rating doesn't reflect these struggles. In 2009, he had a 5.6 UZR/150 games as an outfielder. Yes, he was above average in the stat. In 2010, he was less than a run below average over 150 games. So maybe the defensive digs are more based on the memorability of his mistakes rather than the routineness of the plays he does make.
Or maybe Raburn should just never play right field again. He is consistently poor there, year after year, making me think the trend is not a statistical accident.
What 2011 tells us about 2010:
We do know Raburn can hit the ball well for an extended period of time when given the chance. It will be up to the Tigers to figure out how to solve the enigma and get greater consistency throughout the season.
As I touched on, 2010 (and 2009, really) might tell us that the Tigers would be wise to find regular playing time for Raburn from the start. Barring that, maybe he should get regular playing time in the minor leagues until an injury opens up a spot in Detroit. There's really nothing left for Raburn to learn in the minor leagues, but he doesn't seem to do real well as a part-time player. ... Either that or the Florida-raised Raburn just really, really dislikes the cooler early months of the season. I'm not sure.
The Tigers may be best served by giving Raburn the left-field starting spot. If he can be a middle-of-the-order batter -- in addition to whoever they pick up to serve in the designated hitter and right fielder roles -- the Tigers will have a nice affordable solution to their need for scoring more runs.